December 19, 2006 - Guyuan, China
In my last 5 months abroad I’ve had many situations where communication was difficult. No common language but in so many cases patience and a smile took care of everything.
That is until Saturday night.
Ms. Wang called at 5:45PM.
“Allister, dinner tonight at 6PM. I will call you.”
By now this comes as no surprise, many times she is caught as unaware as I am. I’m here as an ambassador, I’ll attend to like it’s my job. No complaints. In fact I usually have a ton of fun.
The host of the dinner is one of my students father. Not an uncommon occurrence - butter up the teachers a bit - unfortunately the students themselves never show up.
Dice starts up as soon as the first cold appetizers hit the lazy susan.
As usual the host busies himself with filling shot glasses with baijiu. He pays special attention to my glass - and as a host makes sure it isn’t empty - even if it wasn’t in the first place.
“San ge nige!”
Is heard around the table….
We play a few rounds. There’s only 8 of us, including the host, so it looks like a quick evening.
Until the host decides he want to play and extra round with me.
Fine. I oblige. Why not?
We play. I win.
He asks for a rematch. No problem.
He asks for a third round.
This is unheard of. He actually gets a few looks from around the table. Politely I decline. As long as you are polite but firm this usually does the trick. People usually get the hint.
But not him. He tries again.
I tell him I’m finished and pass the dice cups on, but that irritates him further. The dice are pushed back. This is the start of the end.
He tries to stare me down while asking for another round.
I state in as clear Chinese as I can that I’m done, thank you and pass the dice. The dice are pushed back.
He doesn’t take the hint and asks again.
Ms. Wang sensing something amiss glances over at me. I thank him for the dinner and state loudly that I’m finished and pass the dice.
He calls foul.
He calls foul that I’m refusing to play - he let’s me know that I’m in China and that I have to respect Chinese traditions - foul that I’m refusing to drink with him.
He pushes the dice toward me.
This isn’t going anywhere good. If I don’t play he’s losing face by the bucketful.
Hemorrhaging face and he’s about to lose a bit more.
I tell him to look at me. He does, but before I can say anything he looks away. Again, I tell him to look at me. He does but soon glances away - looking for help, not wanting to look me in the eye. A third time I tell him to look at me. I tell him that I’m finished playing and that if he continues to pressure me I will have to leave.
The rest of the table goes quiet.
A few chairs push back and the dinner is suddenly over.
It’s certainly not how I would have liked the evening to go.
In a situation involving a host losing face or you losing the ability to say no what can you do?
Tumbleweeds... and no comments. How 'bout livening things up?